The mountain pygmy possum (MPP) is a small animal of The Australian high country. Since, 2008, it has been declared by the IUCN Redlist as Critically endangered. Population estimates totalled less than 2000 individuals from the three combined isolated populations in 2000.
They are reliant on Bogong Moths to build up reserves for winter and for successful breeding. The lack of moths has had a significant impact on breeding in recent summers. But there is some good news from the 2020/21 summer.
The MPP was considered extinct until they were rediscovered at a ski lodge in Mt Hotham, Victoria in 1966.
They are only found in rocky boulder fields in alpine and subalpine areas of the highest mountains of Victoria and NSW.
The biggest threats to the mountain pygmy possum populations include
- habitat destruction and fragmentation,
- climate change,
- predation by feral cats and red foxes, and
- threats to their prime food source, the bogong moth.
In recent years, the arrival of Bogong Moths from the inland of Australia has occurred in much smaller numbers than normal. This has been blamed on the long drought that has been occurring in inland regions. This journey, of up to 1,000 kilometres from breeding grounds in southern Queensland, north and the western slopes of New South Wales, and Victoria, to caves in the Australian Alps, is something of a miracle in its own right. The smaller numbers of moths arriving has had a dramatic impact on MPP breeding rates. But there is good news emerging.
A report from the North East Catchment Management Authority says that:
‘Early results from this season’s monitoring of Mountain Pygmy-possum breeding in the Victorian Alps are indicating a turnaround in Pouch Young Litter Loss that has previously been linked to the species’ declining numbers’.
Biodiversity Project Officer at North East Catchment Management Authority (CMA), Phill Falcke said during 2017 and 2018, surveys at most possum sites found half of the pouch young had died because their mothers had insufficient body condition to feed them.
“At some sites, up to 95 per cent of all the pouch young were lost,” he said.
The good news this summer is that more MPP have survived:
“When we monitored for Pouch Young Litter Loss over the possum breeding season between January and February this year we found almost all the female possums were in fair to good condition. They showed evidence of having successfully bred this season – meaning that Pouch Young Litter Loss didn’t occur this year.”
Mr Falcke said the 2021 results are believed to be due to a general increase in the numbers of Bogong Moths observed in the Alps this year.
For further information on the MPP, check Mountain Journal stories here.
IMAGE: North East CMA